Ancient & Traditional Chinese Food: Lesson for Kids

Instructor: Corrie Boone

Corrie holds master's in elementary education, taught elementary ESL in the public schools for 5 years, and recently was teaching EFL abroad.

Every culture has their own unique cuisine (food style), and China is no exception with a history dating back thousands of years to when rice was first farmed. Let's learn about all the delicious foods they began eating way back then, and continue to eat today.

Ancient Chinese Cuisine

For the Chinese, food is at the center of every social event and it has been that way since the ancient times. You might have tried Chinese dishes that have become popular in America, like sweet and sour pork, wontons, or spring rolls. But that's just a start. Today, Chinese food is specialized by region (for example, Mandarin cuisine and Cantonese cuisine) and includes complex flavoring and cooking techniques. But in ancient times, food was a lot simpler. Let's explore this food history.

Rice and Millet

Have you eaten a Chinese meal before? If you have, no doubt your meal was served with rice, which is probably the most common part of a Chinese meal. In fact, rice was the first crop the Southern Chinese learned how to farm, several thousand years ago. However, it was too cold and dry in Northern China to farm rice, so instead they farmed millet, a small grain cereal similar to rice and wheat. They often made it into a porridge.

This is what millet looks like when it is growing in the fields.
pearl millet

Fruits and Vegetables

In ancient times, both fruits and vegetables were foods that only the rich could afford. Sometimes the poorer people could afford to buy seeds and grow their own vegetables. Cabbage, cucumbers, and soybeans are vegetables that are native to China, while native fruits include peaches and apricots. Fruits are often eaten as dessert after a meal, even today.

Soybeans are a very common vegetable in the Chinese cuisine.

Meat and Tofu

Meat is yet another food that was mainly consumed by the rich people in ancient times. However, even then it was eaten in small amounts or only on special occasions. Pork is the only meat that is native to China, but they eventually began importing chickens, cows, and sheep from other parts of Asia.

Tofu is also native to China and a big part of their cuisine. Tofu is made from soy milk and water, is very high in protein, cheap to make, and often eaten in place of meat. In ancient China, since meat was so expensive, the people weren't eating enough of it and weren't getting enough protein. Because of this, they made a law that every person would get a free cup of tofu every week.

Tofu being sold in the market in China.
tofu in china

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